For decades, a Yuba City native, who has worked simultaneously as a teacher and a county supervisor, has dodged accusations of assault, sexual misconduct and bullying. Now, former students are going public — and asking what happened to their complaints.
Last month, a 14-year-old girl accused Yuba City High School physical education teacher Jim Whiteaker of grabbing her buttocks. This allegedly occurred while she and a friend were horsing around at school. The student has filed a police report, according to her attorney.
Whiteaker, also a Sutter County supervisor, denies the allegation.
But some former students say this was not an isolated incident.
Andrea Foster spoke to Capital Public Radio last week. She was a senior in 1998 when she says Whiteaker touched her inappropriately with her clothes on. She claims to have told the school nurse and her parents at the time.
"My dad was just basically, like, ‘I'm sorry, but all males are aware about where they put their hands, and that's not OK,” Foster recalled. “‘You should not [have been made to] feel uncomfortable like that.’"
She did not offer details from the alleged assault. But her husband, Gabe Foster, said “if someone did that to your wife, you'd punch him in the face and break his nose."
At that time, Andrea Foster says she and her parents notified the school’s principal. But she didn’t file a statement with the Yuba City Unified School District until after graduation, and says she avoided Whiteaker during the remainder of the school year.
Bill Highland was principal at the time and is now 71. He was apologetic and says he has no reason to doubt Foster's story — but he doesn't remember it, either.
"My response would have been to report it to the child abuse authorities immediately, regardless of what I felt about the story,” Highland explained, adding that he didn’t “have any recollection of this particular situation.”
A spokesperson with Sutter County Child Protective Services was unable to confirm or deny whether the incident was reported, and said state law prevents the release of information about allegations.
Andrea and Gabe Foster say they have a copy of the school district's response, but do not have a full report. "Their conclusion was it was inappropriate behavior and a violation of district policy and the appropriate measures were taken to discipline,” Gabe Foster said.
“We don't know what that was," he added.
Highland was principal from 1996-2003. He says he never received any notification from the district as to any actions taken against his former teacher. “I'm not aware of any other situation involving Jim Whiteaker during my time at the high school,” he said.
After graduating, Andrea Foster says she ran into Whiteaker at a local gym. She claims he approached her and “basically said, ‘You and I both know this didn't really happen,’" and that she left the gym crying.
She did her best to forget what happened during her senior year — until the story of the 14-year-old student surfaced last month.
"The more I started thinking about it, I just started feeling like these girls need another voice, a voice of maybe somebody older, someone who's been through it," Andrea Foster said.
Now, she's a reluctant member of the Me Too movement: "Girls are supposed to feel safe and secure at school. And I guess I'm part of a movement, but I really don't look at it like that.”
She filed a report against Whiteaker last week with the Yuba City Police Department, which has refused to release any information regarding claims against Whiteaker. Spokeswoman Shawna Pavey says it is not required to, but the section of the California Public Records Act she cited does not prohibit it, either.
‘A Wrestling Move’
Shaneiko Cummins says she was in PE class in May 2013 when she told Whiteaker about her dreams of wrestling in college.
"He said that he would like to show me a wrestling move,” she said.
Cummins said no. But when she turned away, she says he grabbed her and wrenched her arm up behind her back.
"I told him to let me go. He didn't. I was trying to get him to let me go and it was to the point where one of my friends had to step in and do something,” she remembered.
Cummins says she immediately felt pain in her shoulder and went to the girl’s bathroom and that he followed her.
"He blocked my exits from leaving. I don't recall his exact words, but the gist of it was he was saying didn't grab me that hard and that it wasn't a big deal and that I don't need to go to the nurse," she said.
She says her doctor diagnosed her with a torn labrum in her shoulder.
According to Cummins, then-principal Martin Ramirez told her she should not file a police report until after the district investigated. She says, as far as she knows, an investigation never materialized.
Ramirez did not respond to requests to discuss the alleged incident or his response
‘How Come Nothing Has Happened’
Roberto Marquez is Whiteaker's attorney. He says he's seen this kind of situation before.
"When you really get down to the facts — not the allegations, not the rumors, but what someone believes happened by fact — it's been my experience these cases fall apart, because the witnesses can't carry the innuendo,” Marquez said. “They can't carry through cross examinations and survive good cross examination."
But Gabe Foster claims his wife's allegations against Whiteaker have already passed that test. "What happened to my wife is not an allegation,” he told Capital Public Radio. “It's fact, it's documented, it was investigated, concluded that he was wrong and guilty. That's the elephant in the room.
“How come nothing has happened for so many years?"
Paul Matiasic, an attorney for the 14-year-old student, says he has spoken with five current and former students who claim to be victims of Whiteaker. “The school district knew at the very highest levels … of Mr. Whiteaker's propensity to engage in inappropriate conduct with students. It's shocking and appalling that they have ratified his conduct in this fashion,” he said.
Whiteaker is currently on leave from his teaching position during a district investigation. He remains on the county board of supervisors.
This Tuesday’s school board meeting is expected to be packed with community members, but no decision reportedly will be made regarding his employment.
The school district has mostly refrained from comment since the January allegation was made public by a member of the girl's family. The district does say a three-person panel will hear the complaint by the 14-year-old student within six months. It will not review the other complaints until the board recommends administrative charges in those cases.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the year Bill Highland left Yuba City High School. Highland was principal from 1996-2003.